Training has ended.
To protect their dragons, Berk raiders conduct rescue operations to free any that go missing. Led by their chieftain Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his night fury alpha-dragon Toothless while advised by his mother Valka (Cate Blanchett), the raids are becoming less successful as would-be conquerors become bolder and more desperate. A new threat arises in Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham), an old dragon-hunter who once knew Hiccup’s father Stoick (Gerard Butler) and is determined to kill every last night fury. With Burk’s location compromised, Hiccup is forced to make a desperate decision: relocate all the dragons and his people to the legendary “hidden world” his father believed in… if it even actually exists.
Based on the children’s series by British author Cressida Cowell, this is the third and (reportedly) final film featuring the heroes. Since the original 2010 film, the quality and resolution of the animation has continued to improve, but the story has equally become increasingly complex; the end goals have grown up with the characters, becoming adult in choice and consequence… and perhaps less magical. With the second film a bit of a muddled step down, does the completion of the trilogy fly the dragons over the goalposts?
The Hidden World feels like viewers arrive already in the middle of something, not unlike Marvel’s introduction to Black Panther. Maybe they did — there were two series on Amazon Prime called “Dragons: Riders of Berk” and “Dragons: Race to the Edge” including all the characters — but the time-jump into jeopardy is a bit jarring, especially coupled with our new villain Grimmel. From that point, the story is essentially completed but isn’t a full victory; adult decisions for good of all must be made ahead of what may be wanted. Yet for everything shown, it doesn’t feel as special as it should; while the ending may have been intended as the grown-up solution, the forced plot points fail to satisfy.
While Grimmel makes for a better scenery-chewing villain than Djimon Hounsou’s Drago Bludvist from the first cinema sequel, the problem is still the same. The villainy seems secondary to all the other details, an excuse for wonderful little character bits of interaction seeking the McGuffin or solving the problem. With the exception of our main couple and the new characters — including a potential mate for Toothless — the secondary characters get only a moment or two to shine.. and that seemed neglectful after everything before. Taken as a whole when looked back upon from the credits, there were plenty of better options on what to do and at least (no spoilers) one shaky premise on how a key situation was being manipulated.
Is it wrong to expect something more even though the original film set the benchmark so high from the beginning? Fans will enjoy seeing their characters grown and progressing as story arcs are closed, but the final resolution rings hollow. Ultimately, none of it appeared necessary other than a need to say goodbye; the dragons and their champions certainly earned a better conclusion than that.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is rated PG for adventure action, some mild rude humor, and want of a better ending.
Two skull recommendation out of four